Thursday’s Supreme Court decisions are a reminder of what is at stake in the November election — and mark a crisis, or moment of truth, for the #NeverTrump movement: is “never” worth the risk?
The short-handed Court split closely as it upheld affirmative action policies (4-3), and allowed a lower court decision striking down President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty for illegal aliens to stand (4-4). Amnesty advocates said that if the Senate had confirmed Merrick Garland to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s seat, they would have won.
They are right, and they may get their chance. The 4-4 split means that no precedent is set. A future President Hillary Clinton could re-instate Obama’s amnesty — indeed, she has vowed to expand it. Clinton would also have the opportunity to re-appoint Scalia’s replacement. That might be Garland, but could be someone more left-wing — and would, like the Court’s other liberals, vote in a political bloc.
Executive amnesty is not just a bad immigration policy, but an outright seizure of legislative powers. For all the #NeverTrump complaints about Donald Trump’s “authoritarian tendencies,” Hillary Clinton is promising to deliver tyranny, straight-up.
That is something every American, and certainly every self-described conservative, must resist. Period.
The counter-argument from #NeverTrump is twofold.
First, it is not clear that Trump would respect the Constitution and the rule of law, or that he would follow through on his promises to appoint conservative justices.
But while it is uncertain Trump will do the right thing, it is certain that Clinton will not. The choice between them may not be a very happy one, but it is not a difficult one, either.
Second. #NeverTrump argues that Trump is certain to lose anyway, so it is better to oppose him and preserve the purity of conservatism for future battles.
But conservatism is a political philosophy, not a religious dogma or aesthetic ideal. Its purpose is to guide the use of political power. And while power corrupts, powerlessness can be even more corrupting.
It is better to fight and lose, but gain allies, than to snipe from the sidelines and lose anyway.
And there is still a chance Trump can win — especially in the wake of the stunning Brexit result.
The Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein has written an interesting op-ed in the UK Guardian this week that purports to explain the #NeverTrump phenomenon.
“Fundamentally, it’s a resistance movement to everything Trump represents,” Weinstein writes.
However, Weinstein never quite explains what Trump represents. He simply recites a list of character flaws: “Simply stated, all Never Trumpers believe Donald Trump is a lying, unstable megalomaniac wholly unsuited for the presidency.”
Weinstein does provide a detailed taxonomy of the #NeverTrump movement: “Some Never Trumpers say they will never vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton and will stay home, others say they will vote for Clinton if no serious third-party candidate emerges, while still others say they will vote for the Libertarian party contender or write in a candidate.”
It is a movement that is unsure what it believes, or even what its enemy believes, but it is exquisitely self-aware. It knows how it wants to be seen.
In the fishbowl of Washington, D.C., or the microcosm of social media, #NeverTrump is a win-win for conservatives. If you oppose Trump and he loses, you can say you were right, while earning credibility from liberals for whom Trump is Hitler. If Trump happens to win, you can privately savor the victory, waiting for his first (and inevitable) errors in office to vindicate your original judgment.
But if your world extends beyond Twitter and the Beltway, #NeverTrump looks like a risky gamble. And as of Thursday, the stakes just became much higher.
Trump could be everything #NeverTrump says he is — and worse — but he is running against someone committed to destroying the separation of powers and the rule of law.
It should not come a surprise to mature adults that it is possible to criticize a candidate and still support him. And there is no such thing as “never” in politics. (Just ask Marco Rubio.)
The question, as Bill Clinton once said, is: “Compared to what?”
We know the answer.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, will be published by Regnery on July 25 and is available for pre-order through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.